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I know that Friday night at the bar is not the best place to discuss your innermost fears, deepest insecurities, or even the brightest parts of your soul. But if I ask you for your musical tastes and you just reply «A bit of everything»—or something along those lines—I’ll just assume you’re a doormat (and that’s coming from the stereotypical high school nerd!)

People have been sharing music since the beginning of time. I don’t know if there was such a thing as wax cylinder piracy, but I bet there were attempts. Pretty much all music media used when I was born (vinyl records, CDs, cassettes) can be copied and reproduced in one way or another. A significant portion of today’s population learned to press «Rec» and «Stop» at critical moments so that the DJ’s voice wouldn’t mar the mixtape. And today, even if some people say we’re «post-MP3», there’s still loads and loads of music being shared all around the place.

So unless you’ve been a literal hermit, chances are you have had contact with music in many ways, shapes and forms. I only want to know which ones you prefer.

«Oh you know, a bit of everything» tells me jack shit. Just on my commute alone I can easily hear cumbias, rap, prog rock and Baroque before I climb onto the bus. It doesn’t take any particular genius to know that even those are very broad genres and there’s many ways of breaking them apart (by country of origin, subject, instruments…)

«A bit of everything», without any follow-up, just tells me you don’t pay attention to what you hear, or that you don’t care enough about what you listen.

And I’m not advocating for any particular «highbrow» music, either. I’m saying that I respect the guy who chooses to only listen to Los Ángeles Azules’ cumbias over the one who just says they listen to anything and everything.

«But I don’t think I could tie myself down to any particular genre» is even more cringe-inducing. No one is asking you to marry a human-named, ill-defined label that we call «genre». I just want to know if you ever include, say, Scottish folk on your auditory diet, or if you only listen to chiptunes while focusing intensely.

«A bit of everything» hasn’t meant shit for at least half a century. I don’t want to know every single thing you listen to, either. I’m merely surveying, I wish to know if you lean towards the acoustic, or the electronic, or the distinction doesn’t matter with you. I wish to know if Spanish Folk Metal is banned from your life, or if you listen to Latin American Feminist Hip-Hop at all.

And it’s fine to say you don’t know. Some people truly do not care about it and never wear headphones. Some people do listen to whatever’s «on the radio» but don’t care for music itself. That I don’t agree with, but can respect.

But saying you listen to «a bit of everything» in order to either appear a cosmopolitan person, a connoisseur, a freethinker, a rebel, a non-conformist, a know-it-all, a devil-may-care free spirit or anything like that…

You can keep it to yourself. The rest of us end up in weird parties, at strangers’ basements, listening to weird shit and having a blast.

Post script: As others have said, yes it's possible that someone would say "a bit of everything" in order to avoid being pigeonholed (i.e. one wanting to give off the appearance of being cosmopolitan, of broad taste and above it all) but I must say I never thought there could be a social/political reason behind it, as Glowing fish has explained. My experience indeed has never been of avoiding a particular niche in order to avoid ugly, divisive discussions and I must believe G-Fish on his account. The only thing I have left is to lament the state of things when one has to avoid stating musical preferences to avoid political discussions.

Not ashamed to be part of OpinionQuest 2021

This is something that has been rattling around in my head for years, and I am glad that Andycyca brought it up, because now I can write my riposte. Although I had always thought of it from the viewpoint of the question: "What type of music do you like?".

Back in the 1990s, when I was a teenager, this was one of the first things you would ask, when meeting a stranger in a social situation. From the time I had my first awkward interactions as a chubby, pasty 13 year old who had just started seriously listening to that clock radio, to the time I went "away to college" when I was 19, up into my early 20s, after we had mp3 sharing, this was the question that we would use to discern who might have common interests or viewpoints. We were too young to have jobs, and were perhaps shy about our hobbies, and so as we entered our teenage years, we started using musical subcultures to form and communicate our personas. Sharing this information was a way to give a little minibiography. My own, which I have practiced over the years, is "I grew up listening to classic rock, but then as a teenager I got into grunge and alternative, I was into old school hip-hop for a few years, but now that I am older I like jazz and other instrumental music". This is a true, but very calculated answer, and even before giving that out, I sometimes wonder how much to edit.

There is one key difference between Andy and me: I live in a United States that currently has a ridiculous level of political and social division that is hinted and insinuated at through everything, including, of course, taste in music. Of course, this was always the case: even as a teenager, there was connotations of class and education in whether you preferred grunge rock over heavy metal. Did you prefer the loud screaming of Kurt Cobain, small town boy who went away to art school and who was generally salty about social injustice, or did you prefer the loud screaming of Axl Rose, small city boy who went away to LA to give voice to disaffected white kids? When you were 16, in 1997, this question meant a lot. But in 2021, after years of "culture war", even innocent questions about taste become a way to measure each other up. I sometimes refrain from mentioning liking hip-hop, because I don't want to deal with a reply of "rap is so misogynist", which is a stale talking point from someone whose exposure to rap was watching a 60 Minutes episode in 1992. On the other hand, I will also edit my tastes to not mention anything too pretentious. Because if I say I like Belle & Sebastian (which I do), two bad things will happen: I will have to explain that they are a Scottish folk rock group, or worse, the other person likes Belle & Sebastian too.

I own one t-shirt advertising my musical tastes, and I chose it carefully: it is a picture of Jimi Hendrix. Jimi Hendrix was a wildly innovative and creative musician, but is also a classic rock staple. He is also, notably, the most popular black musician for most white Americans, for several generations. I use the picture of Jimi Hendrix to give a hint of my general and social political leanings, as much as about my musical tastes. But I also do it in a way that gives me plausible deniability: this is also the image of a classic rock staple whose music was rarely overtly political.

If "A little bit of everything" doesn't tell the questioner much, that is for me, and for many people in the United States, be design, because dodging the question of musical taste is a great way to avoid being pigeonholed, analyzed for social background, or getting into a social or political debate. And I know that might sound crazy, but that is where we are right now.

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